In 1977 the actor Henry Winkler, in his alter ego as Arthur Fonzarelli, unwittingly spawned a phrase for the ages when the comedy “Happy Days” depicted him scaling a shark while donning water skis. Yep, the Fonz was the first to Jump the Shark, and now we recognize those words as a moment when all pretenses of reality and common sense are tossed aside. While Jumping the Shark today is used most often in entertainment circles, it’s emerged as a theme that can be reliably applied to many facets of life.
The entire United States of America has, in fact, Jumped the Shark – just look at the occupant of the White House. But this piece isn’t really about him – it’s more about the forces that were unleashed to put him there, and how they’re at-large throughout our society.
In late January the emotional-support animal trend Jumped the Shark when a woman in Newark, New Jersey bought a plane ticket for her pet and arrived at the airport with the critter in tow – it was a fucking peacock. Fellow travelers were savvy enough to snap pictures and capture some video before United Airlines jolted the woman into reality by informing her that the bird would not fly.
The lunacy continued into this month when a Florida woman attempted to bring an “emotional support hamster” on a plane and was allegedly coerced by Spirit Airlines personnel to flush it down the toilet.
It could be argued that the actual Shark Jumping on this issue occurred long ago. People have been complaining about the generous interpretations of help animals for quite some time. Enough dogs are flying these days to warrant their own restroom facilities at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, CA – a room with artificial turf and a reasonable facsimile of a fire hydrant. Remarkably, it doesn’t smell.
It may not be a coincidence that Burbank is the closest commercial airport to Hollywood, home of Paramount Pictures, the production facility for Happy Days.
Much of the rest of the country believes that California Jumped the Shark decades ago, regarding it as “the land of fruits and nuts,” and they may not always be talking about food. Many of us who live here see it differently, of course, believing in the state’s innovative and progressive spirit. But we have our moments. Here are a couple of examples that may have raised eyebrows elsewhere in the country:
- A law forbidding plastic straws – A bill working its way through the California legislature would make it illegal for restaurant employees to hand out unsolicited plastic straws. The legislation was written in such a way that a single violation could result in a six-month jail term. The conservative media jumped all over that one before the bill’s author clarified that the overly harsh penalties weren’t supposed to be in the bill and will be removed before voting occurs.
- Legal weed with no iron-clad mechanism for determining DUI – California isn’t the lone ranger on this one. Recreational marijuana is also legal in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont, and Washington DC. The fact remains that cannabis results in another legal intoxicant people will consume before climbing behind the wheel, and even though anyone with experience driving while stoned knows that weed significantly alters your perception and reactions, there currently isn’t an iron-clad way for law enforcement to test for levels of of intoxication–like alcohol–and that is a potential problem that has defense lawyers ready to pounce. We certainly hope that changes and our hats are off to police agencies that are definitely trying their best, but it may seem to conservative America, dear voters, that this issue could have been resolved BEFORE legalizing weed, and that doesn’t even to begin to discuss how the right may feel about the conflict between federal and state laws on marijuana.
It’s not just California and other blue states Jumping the Shark, though. In fact, the red and blue states have a kind-of mirror image thing going. They point at each other and claim the other side is the problem.
The red states pull us back to the subject of Donald Trump. When we ask the perfectly natural question of how the hell he became president, the answer lies in the red states. They elected him. They Jumped the Shark. The Republicans populating those states made a deal with the devil to gain control of the presidency, and now a great many of them are holding on, refusing to admit their mistake come Hell or high water, mostly Hell.
Some of our best writers continue trying to explain what happened. Richard North Patterson, writing in the Huffington Post, pointed out that the GOP is plunging “ever deeper into a fever swamp of fantasy” when it comes to Trump, supported and facilitated by friendly media like Fox News and Breitbart. Patterson continued: “Long before Trump, ever more Republicans became addicted to fact-free narratives (fake news) through which one right-wing cult or another mesmerized the party faithful. From this petri dish of unreason came Trump’s implacable army…The GOP has become a credulous coalition rooted in magical thinking and unreasoning resentment ― the perfect seedbed for a toxic Messiah who creates his own reality.”\
The newspaper of record in the state of Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune, recently lectured the institution that pays its bills, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with an opinion piece from a Mormon college student asking when church members will finally dump Trump. The student wrote, “The difficult truth, it would seem, is that Mormons have decided that promoting a conservative agenda is more important than opposing Trump’s reprehensible behavior.” The young man concluded that supporting Trump is, in fact, a betrayal of Mormon identity.
However, Trump has enjoyed stunning success among the religious right, including Mormons. Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals reportedly voted for him last year, and more than one evangelical leader has equated support for Trump to a belief in Jesus Christ that may well accompany a presumption that God is a benevolent supporter of white, male-dominated America.
At the same time, and this is far from a coincidence, a recent survey of evangelicals asking if “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life” revealed that 72 percent of them said yes, although only 30 percent of them believed that in 2011, when Barack Obama was president.
A sizable portion of Trump’s support seems to track along a belief system that, in addition to being highly religious, is also anti-fact and anti-science, and that may not be a coincidence, either. In this video by journalist and author Kurt Anderson, he explains how religion has radicalized American politics over the last 30 years and seriously harmed the perception of science, led by the rise of the Christian right.
On the other hand, the impact of religious beliefs is nothing new, even if the scale and fury of it in modern times are something different. It could be argued that a fundamental belief in God is anti-fact and anti-science, a position that is reinforced by a woman described as an ‘evangelical adviser’ to Trump who claims flu shots are unnecessary because you can “inoculate yourself with the word of God.”
The religious right has unquestionably Jumped the Shark.
Bottom line – Jumping the Shark is the human condition. People have brains that are hard-wired for emotional responses and not always willing to consider objective fact – irrespective of political and religious beliefs. So as a country we pay the price, and we find ourselves barely treading water in a vast sea of bullshit, especially right now with a stupendous moron in the White House.